Monday, December 22, 2008

Hypothetical Genocide Prevention, continued

Missed this Saturday piece in the NYTimes by Madeleine Albright and William Cohen hawking their report on genocide prevention.

The key graph:
"America’s standing in the world is eroded when we are perceived as bystanders to genocide. Yes, we must understand that preventing mass killings may eventually require military intervention, but this is always at the end of the list of intervention options, not the beginning. We must learn to recognize the early warning signs of genocide and move quickly to marshal international cooperation, to bring diplomatic and economic pressure to bear against those who violate the norms of civilized behavior."

Two points. One, American's standing in the world eroded far more when we took military action that was justified by humanitarian hawks in Iraq than it was when we didn't take action on Rwanda.

Second, I know it's an op-ed piece, but I looked over the report also and it was equally full of boilerplate. To justify any of this, someone would need to explain to me how US policy could have prevented, say, Darfur. Would early diplomatic and economic pressure have stopped the war? And most importantly, if not, would Albright and Cohen have advocated military intervention in Darfur in 2003 and 2004, when the killing was at its worst and its most systematic? And if so, how would this have solved anything? That's the part that's missing.

Meanwhile, The New Republic's Marty Peretz liked the Albright/Cohen piece, which immediately makes me even more suspicious about it. Peretz also calls out his own magazine for not advocating strong enough measures on genocide in their most recent editorial, when they called for a strengthening of MONUC with European troops, and for a special envoy to be appointed. On the one hand, Peretz has a point: this is exactly the formula that has not accomplished a thing in Darfur, despite years of dedicated effort by Andrew Natsios. Never mind also that, um, which European forces can deploy to Congo? The Germans, who don't even want to stay in Afghanistan? The Italians, who are leading UNIFIL? The French and Belgians and British and Dutch, who have, um, a rather sordid history in central Africa, and Congo and Rwanda in particular?

The problem with Peretz's argument, however, is that there isn't much else to be done. It's an anarchic war between ethnic militias fighting over territory and resources, and trying to blanket it with overwhelming military force is like installing a rug to make the roaches go away. Worse, there are no clear provincial border deliniations between ethnic factions as in, say, Iraq, or Sudan, so a partition is likely out of the question, as is a federalized political settlement. Sending in a huge force would not solve the underlying problems, and it would take decades, if inded it's possible at all, to build up the security framework and institutions necessary in Congo for stable governance in North Kivu.

Peretz is basically trying to enhance his own moral credibility through toughness, by advocating aggressive and never-gonna-happen measures to stop a humanitarian calamity, safe in knowing that he'll never have to witness them fail spectacularly because no sane politician will ever undertake them. This is why I say, let reality defeat dreams, and let honesty defeat bluster. The reason people propose UNPKOs and special envoys is that, even though they're unlikely to work, they're the only feasible option apart from doing nothing. Crying about it won't save a soul in Congo, but it might earn Peretz a promotion at some point. This isn't genocide prevention. It's self-promotion.

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